My question is simple, is a constant story important to an mmo? It seems easy to gravitate towards saying "yes a story is needed to grab a players attention from level one and keep them on the right direction until they reach the level cap" and a lot of mmos have developed this approach. The problem I see with this is it gives the player a false sense of FINISHING the game. A person thinks, "whelp the story is over guess thats it" and religates him/herself to raiding, pvping and then quitting the game for lack of "content". Or they start pushing the devs for more "end game content" which is really a myth in mmos anyways. I was playing the free trail of EVE the other day and I had an epiphany of sorts and this is what came pouring out of my mind
First off, what if an MMO had no real involved story but your own UNTIL you reached cap? Think of the whole leveling up system is your "training" for the epic battles to come your way once you max out. Hell the game would be designed around its endgame content from the get go. For example you could spend 3 months leveling to 50 on your toon only to have a whole story driven campaign waiting for you t that could take you another 3 months to complete. This campaign could include questing, raiding and pvping and would tie those three things together. A player could choose how they wanted to help in the struggle at level cap. Now, you might say this is just sort of putting a mask over the problem of 'end game content', and once people flew through the end game campaign there would be nothing to do but raid and PvP. But a company could continually pump out end game content if they did not worry about adding new content for lower level players. Of coarse this would mean that the leveling from 1 to whatever would have to be extremely polished from the beginning which in turn would mean that a company would need to actually finish the game prior to launch but its totally doable. If company's didn't realease games that where unfinished at the lower level stand point they could put all effort into expanding game systems and adding "elder game" (which is a better term) content after release. Now I am not saying that there would be no direction at the beginning of this fictional mmo. What I mean is that the NPCs and other players around you would be pushing you to excel at your training so you can succeed in your battles ahead at cap. It would really give the since that you are leveling (training) for a reason and give you something to look forward to.
Another look at it, which is more like EVE, is there could be no story at all except the one you make for yourself. Yeah there would be quests in the world but its up to the player to do them and if you dont want to and just want to farm and craft all day you could do that all the way to max level. If someone wants to get into politics let them do that too. These games are supposed to be ROLE PLAYING GAMES. They are supposed to allow you play the role you want to in a virtual world. But it seems to me that these days you are playing the role the game developers want you to in there games. But that is a discussion for another time.